Over the weekend, a group of Freaks and Geeks alumni — cast members Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, Samm Levine, Martin Starr, Busy Philipps, Dave (Gruber) Allen, and Steve Bannos and creator Paul Feig — took the stage at San Francisco's Sketchfest to share their memories of the great, underappreciated show. I was there, and over the next few days, I'm going to share some of their best stories with you. Let's get started:
- Paul Feig said that when the series began, all of the writers filled out questionnaires about their own best, worst, and most memorable high school experiences. When someone came up with something truly awful, Feig said, his reaction was: "Oh, that's a terrible story! We'll use that on the show!"
- Cardellini, who played geek-turned-freak Lindsay Weir, said sometimes she'd think the stories were so awful or out there, they had to be made up. "Then you would look at Paul, and you'd see the earnest look on his face and the sadness in his eyes, and you'd realize that most of this happened to Paul."
- Feig said he set the show in 1980s Michigan largely because that's what he knew best, but he also had a few specific reasons for that setting: He wanted it to be set in pre-AIDS times so that people were afraid of having sex because they were afraid of sex itself; he wanted his show to be pre-cell phone because technology restricts interpersonal interactions; and he wanted to show Midwestern life because it's so common and real.
More, including Feig's inspiration for Lindsay, if you read more
- Feig said most of the characters were based on people he knew, but Lindsay was a composite character based largely on his own journey. He had been raised in a religious household, and at the time he created Freaks and Geeks, he was turning toward atheism. "Any crisis I was going through at the moment," he said, "I put onto Lindsay."
- Feig believes that if the show had premiered a couple of years later, it might still be on the air. It came on right in the middle of game show mania, and it would get pummeled by Who Wants to be a Millionaire and was replaced by NBC's attempt to revive 21. It was one of the lowest-rated shows on NBC at the time, but it was still getting 7 million viewers a week, more than some current network shows.
- Some members of the cast said they realized what an unusual experience it was to work on Freaks and Geeks. John Francis Daley, on the other hand, said he thought it was the norm to do shows that good, ". . . and then I did The Geena Davis Show." Busy Philipps said she didn't realize how tough things were on normal network TV shows until she appeared on Dawson's Creek, where she was told that it didn't matter if she screwed up because they'd just cut to Katie Holmes anyway.
- Feig said making the show was so touch-and-go that they approached each episode as a stand-alone independent film. The final episode that aired, "Discos and Dragons," was actually shot out of sequence, so it would always be there to close the series.
Tomorrow: cliques on the set, hopes for a second season, and a fantastic James Franco story, courtesy of Busy Philipps.